Sports Waves

Comcast's Johnson Earns Redskins' Respect

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to
Tuesday, November 13, 2007; 12:08 PM

Kelli Johnson, Comcast Sports Net's beat reporter covering the Washington Redskins, still remembers a rather heated discussion she had on live television with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams shortly after the Redskins had lost a game in Kansas City in 2005. The subject that day was LaVar Arrington, and Johnson kept pressing a clearly perturbed Williams as to why the linebacker wasn't seeing any action.

"We got into it pretty good," Johnson said the other day. "But afterward, when he was getting ready to leave, he said to me, 'good job.' He respected me for it. I think in our business, if they don't have a problem with you, maybe you ought to be concerned. It would bother me a lot more if they didn't take me seriously."

At Redskins Park they clearly take Johnson very seriously. The only female reporter assigned to the team on a full-time daily basis for any area media outlet clearly has earned the respect of players, coaches and her fellow reporters she competes against every day.

"She's extremely well-prepared," said Paul Woody of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the dean of Redskins beat reporters now in his 28th year covering the franchise for his newspaper. "She's intelligent, she's knowledgeable and she asks good questions. And she's also persistent in getting answers from people. She is very good at what she does, one of the best I've seen doing that job."

Johnson, 31 and in her fourth year covering the Redskins, does plenty for Comcast, particularly during the football season. She's at Redskins Park almost every day, reporting and doing locker room interviews for the cable network's nightly sports news shows as well as preparing stories for the weekly pre-game show. She also handles post-game player and coaching interviews, and during the preseason, was a sideline reporter for Channel 9's game coverage team.

During the football season, she also may occasionally be called upon to anchor the 10 o'clock sports report, and in the off-season, she also spends a number of nights in the anchor chair, as well as reporting on the Capitals, Wizards and Nationals, among many other assignments she's been asked to handle since arriving here from a four-year stint with the NBC affiliate in St. Louis.

Before Johnson began covering the Redskins, she had a long conversation with Christine Brennan, now a sports columnist for USA Today. Back in the 1980s, Brennan was a Washington Post sportswriter and the first woman beat reporter ever to cover the football team full-time, paving the way for several generations of women now covering NFL teams all around the league. Johnson simply wanted to get a sense of what she might expect in the mostly all-male atmosphere at Redskins Park.

"As a woman, the biggest challenge comes the first time you walk in the door," Johnson said. "The first questions you ask you're establishing your credentials. I'm sure there were people who wondered 'does she know her stuff?' For a woman, every time you open your mouth, in a sense you're being tested, and you always have to be on your game. You feel like you're always being assessed, but I think that's all in the past for me. I think I'm accepted for who I am and what I do.

"I never felt like there was a lot of resistance to me being out here. If people doubted me or resisted me, I certainly didn't see it, and I sure don't see it now."

As a four-year starter for the University of Idaho women's basketball team who had several offers to play professionally after college, Johnson never really envisioned a career in sports journalism when she left school. Her father was a high school baseball coach, her mother was a highly-regarded gymnastics coach back home in Moscow, Idaho, and "I just kind of fell into this."

She originally thought she'd go into sports marketing or public relations, but in her junior year at Idaho, she got an internship through a cousin with a Seattle television station. "I thought it was kind of cool," she said. "If you can't play the game, why not be around the game?"

After graduation, she took a job as a weekend sports anchor for a small television station in Medford, Ore., staying ten months before moving to a regional cable network in Austin, Texas where she was half of a two-person reporting staff. Eighteen months later, she moved to the NBC affiliate in St. Louis to do sports reporting and occasional anchoring, then moved to Washington four years ago initially to cover the Orioles before moving over to the Redskins assignment.

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